Performance management and execution
Over the course of the 175+ essays on this blog, I have often commented on the importance of executional excellence in achieving success in business. I have been so focused on this idea that I have captured a subset of 48 essays (this will be #49) in my “topic archive” (found on the left side of this blog’s homepage) that is themed “Performance Management and Execution.” Rather than being inspired by a current client challenge, or a historic business experience, today’s essay was inspired by the birth of a friend’s first child.
My good friend Cory and his wife Spenser celebrated the birth of their son Eliot in the past week or so and the pictures brought back all of my memories of the birth of our son Bryson almost 20 years ago. We were living in Baltimore at the time and living on the northern edge of the city and Jennie had a great relationship with a local doctor who was all set to deliver young Bryson. We had attended all the “pre-natal” classes, and had not only practiced our route to GBMC (Greater Baltimore Medical Center), but had figured out a backup route in case of traffic. I thought we were all set …. little did I know!
Jennie’s pregnancy was going along well, but towards the third trimester (in mid June) it became clear that Bryson was positioned “transverse”, and that unless something really changed we were probably heading to a planned c-section when he came to term in mid July. After a regular appointment, Jennie’s doctor let us know that she was heading out of town for a week or so on vacation, and introduced Jennie to her backup doctor “just in case.” All seemed set and we left that appointment thinking that we would probably see the doctor again in about a month for the planned c-section that was discussed …. again, little did I know!
Just a few days later (thank goodness I was in town!!) Jennie called my car phone (this was 1998, the early days of mobile phones) and said that her water broken, that she was going into labor, and that I needed to get home immediately!! I was right around the corner so I pulled into the driveway in just a few minutes and found Jennie VERY upset. Not only was our doctor out of town on vacation, the backup doctor was nowhere to be found, and we were being connected with the “backup to the backup” doctor who practiced at a different hospital in a different part of Baltimore. A total freakout! My wife was going into labor and were were heading to meet this “backup to the backup” doctor for the first time at a hospital that we had never visited … to say the least this was not what was planned!
While a crazy ride, it all worked out ok in the end, Bryson was born the next day (an emergency c-section after all) and mom and baby both were fine … a bit freaked out but fine! This memory stays with me as a reminder of how I had missed planning for the “backup to the backup” plan! I needed to take contingency planning to the next level!
Think how rarely we take the time or have the discipline to work a contingency plan in business, none the less take it to the “next level.” The next time that you are in planning/work session and you do some work on a “backup plan,” take a few minutes and ask yourself “what if the backup plan blows up, what then??” While it might be a freakout, ask yourself, how would I get to Mt. Sinai hospital ( or your “backup to the backup”) if the chips are down? These few minutes of work may seem like overkill, but I can assure you that in hindsight I wished I had asked some of those questions 20 years ago, and try to ask them now in business situations that I face today!
As I touched on in a recent post, I have the chance in my consulting practice to work with a wide variety of clients and companies. Ranging from food and technology startups, to billion dollar produce and engineering companies, to a massive global bio-technology organization the breadth of companies and verticals is significant and humbling. What is interesting across all of my experiences/engagements is that while the companies and industries vary greatly, there continues to be a small set of common issues/challenges/opportunities… or “common denominators”… that are the center of my work across assignments. Today I want to reflect on the three “common denominators” that I keep bumping into most often.
The Impact of Personal Leadership
Leaders matter and have a real impact on an organization and so often these individuals lose track of the importance of their roles, their work, their actions, and their impact. Think about times in your career where there has been a leadership change and that moment signaled a real change in the business and company culture, good or bad. I think back to a leadership change that i witnessed very closely where I left a key leadership role and watched an organization really struggle both in its marketplace performance metrics and its employee engagement and company culture. In my consulting work, I often work with leaders who underestimate their impact and are candidly not prepared for the leadership roles they occupy. This idea of nurturing/building future leaders has come up as a priority that I am taking into many of my client assignments today. How can we help the future leaders of tomorrow get ready, build skills, and maybe even practice a bit in their roles today??
I have written a number of essays on leadership, two that are among the most read essays on this blog and may be worth reading (or maybe re-reading) to amplify this topic:
> “A Teachable Point of View”; https://fylegacy.blogspot.com/2009/05/teachable-point-of-view.html
> “The Three Impact Points of Leadership”; https://fylegacy.blogspot.com/2009/03/three-impact-points-of-leadership.html
“Execution” is a/the strategy
In assignment after assignment I keep running into the dynamic where good or even great ideas are executed poorly in the marketplace and performance metrics suffer. Execution matters and this idea of focusing on the “how” not just the “what” is a big deal and is becoming a major focus in my consulting practice. Maybe it just doesn’t seem “sexy” or intellectually sophisticated to “sweat the details” and work on an execution/implementation plan for a project but as I continue on in my 30+ year business career it seems more important than ever. Recently I wrapped up a project for a large client who has really struggled in their market over the past few years and lost a significant amount of market share. They wanted to understand the key actions/strategies of their primary competitors, trying to understand how they took so much share over the past five years. After digging into the data, it became clear that there was no magic equation or unique insight that the competitors brought to market, they just “out-executed” my client at every turn, across a number of years and the marketplace impact had been dramatic. Here are a few essays on this topic that maybe helpful to review:
> “Plan the “How”, not just the “What””; https://fylegacy.blogspot.com/2017/12/plan-how-not-just-what.html
> “Good ideas executed brilliantly”; https://fylegacy.blogspot.com/2017/04/good-ideas-executed-brilliantly.html
“Focus” is key for all, do fewer things better
We live and work in a time when the tempo of business has never been faster and the need to balance and handle a wide variety of topics,priorities, and projects is a day to day reality. Its hard to remember that I started my business career in the mid eighties, with no cell phones, no internet, just the beginning of PC’s and the technology today lets us do so much more than I could have ever imagined 30+ years ago! It’s in this context that I have seen the need to improve our “focus” and actually work hard on doing “fewer things better.” Just because we can “pull off” a project or a meeting doesn’t mean we should do that if we can’t do it well. There are so many examples of this dynamic to review but a recent one brought a smile to my face. I was sitting at the Raleigh airport, waiting for my flight back to Atlanta, and my gate just happened to be at the base of the escalators coming from security. I watched a young man, trying to put on his belt, carry a backpack and a coat, and pull his roller-bag while texting or emailing on his phone as he stepped onto the escalator. It was almost comic to watch, but while thankfully no one was hurt, he dropped his roller bag which fell down the escalator and somehow lost track of his belt (I am still not sure where the belt ended up) and the calamity at the bottom of the escalators was astounding. ‘Do fewer things better” immediately came to mind in that moment as it often does in my client engagements today. I often work to “take things off” my clients’ plates, so we can actually focus in on fewer priorities and work hard to execute them well. Again, the following are a few essays that bring this idea more to life:
> “Inflection points of a business, focus on fewer things to insure success” ; https://fylegacy.blogspot.com/2017/11/inflection-points-of-business-focus-on.html
> “Myopia, a strategy for sales, business, and life” : https://fylegacy.blogspot.com/2015/10/myopia-strategy-for-sales-business-and.html
These three “common denominators” continue to surface across my business landscape today and may be present in yours. Take a few minutes and reflect on some of the linked essays and see how you might be able to share these ideas with your teams and put them into practice in your assignments today!